Website migration is not an easy matter. Because so many things can potentially go wrong and the transfer process may cause some downtime, most of the site owners, SEO specialists and other professionals involved are often intimidated by the thought of website relocation.
The good news is that there is a whole range of techniques and emerging tools that aim to simplify the content migration. In this article, we’ll highlight various approaches and recommendations on reducing the migration period and required effort, as well as introduce a few tools that will help you with the task.
The very first and the most basic advice, that will nevertheless save you a lot of trouble is to carefully plan your migration. Jumping into the task head first, you risk to discover some things you are not prepared for along the way. So since it’s a known fact that preventing migration problems is easier than fixing them, let’s look at a few aspects you should consider before even starting the transfer procedure.
- Decide on the time of migration. Analyze the sites traffic and try to choose the period when you get the smallest number of visitors or sales (if it’s a business site).
- Consider the source and target site architecture. How complex is your current site? Do you have a lot of custom content?
- Measure available resources. Determine how much time and money you can afford to spend. Will you be performing the migration alone or will there be a team of professionals involved?
After carefully considering the aforementioned factors you will be able to create an effective plan that will help you significantly cut the time and cost of migration. Here are a few basic steps that are recommended to follow during every migration procedure:
Evaluate Your Source Website
The key step of every migration project is the discovery phase. It allows to determine what kinds of data is available and where it can be found. Poor data knowledge is the prime reason of a tremendous part of failed projects, so it is vital to know precisely what you are working with from the start.
Go through the pages on your current site and distinguish what sorts of content may require special attention during the migration (galleries, custom post types, attachments and so forth).
Another thing that is recommended to do in regards to your source site data is deciding what is worth bringing with you and what you can leave behind. Filtering out the unnecessary content can significantly reduce the time and resources needed for migration.
Determine which content brings you most visitors and/or sales and has high search engine rankings. Usually it is worth keeping the most frequently visited pages, pages with lots of backlinks, landing pages, used for campaigns and that could still generate leads, etc. Use analytics tools to find this content and make sure you transfer it to the new destination.
Outdated or no longer relevant information should, on the other hand, be removed.
Create a Backup
Before transferring any of your files over to the new platform, you should secure your data and backup your existing website. There are many ways to create a backup and they differ depending on your source CMS. One of the most basic and fastest ways is to download all the files on your host’s server and save them on your computer in a specific folder. This can be done using the file manager function in the control panel, or the chosen FTP client. Remember, not to decompress your backup files, as, in case you need it, you will be uploading them in the same compressed format.
Set Up Your New (Target) Platform
One last thing necessary to do before proceeding to content migration is to set up the target platform. Depending on your tool of choice you can either install the CMS with your current hosting provider; move to a different host or, if you decide to go with the hosted platform, register an account.
Another step you may want to take as a part of the initial setup is to preinstall some add ons (plugins, modules, extensions).
Once your new CMS is up and running, you are ready to move on to the actual transfer process!
Migrate the Content
Most roughly divided, there are two ways of moving and organizing the content – manual entry and automated migration (via an importing tool or a custom importing process). Each of the approaches has its benefits and drawbacks and since every migration is unique, the best results are usually achieved through finding a suitable combination of the two methods.
Manual migration approach involves copy/pasting the existing data by hand, which usually requires a lot of time and precision. Thus, this option is most suitable for small sites or projects with a large amount of custom entities (content types, taxonomies, forms, etc), when no appropriate tool is available. The upside is that it allows to review all of your data once more and remove some outdated content, in case you have missed some during the preparation stage.
If you can’t afford to spend much time on migration or you don’t have the necessary skills, you can always hire a professional to help. However, if outsourced, manual transfer may be not that effective, as the new individuals don’t always realize what precisely can be considered irrelevant.
You can also use a custom script to automate some parts of content transfer. Here is the example of a simple solution for transferring your user accounts from one platform to another (transfer from Joomla).
Note, this script does not migrate user passwords and you should have access to both source and target databases if you want it to run smoothly. Also, don’t forget to change the names of the databases when using the script (in our example those are test20.wp4_users and test20.jos_users).
Now, if you want to determine the access privileges per user, you will have to do a bit more and create a PHP file. Here is the code you will need to add inside that newly created file.
When that is done, simply upload the file with the code on your server. Remember, it is important to test both scripts before using them!
There are numerous ways to automate the migration process. You can use a custom script, one of the available applications, a universal migration tool or an extension created by by CMS platform developers. WordPress, for instance, has the whole chapter in the Codex dedicated to various importing tools from more than 50 platforms.
The best use case of this method is sites with large databases, as it simplifies the process greatly and saves a lot of time and effort. However, depending on the nature of the tool you are planning to use and the peculiarities of your web project, there is a possibility that you will still have to move certain types of information manually.
Make Additional Adjustments, if Needed
Carefully review the import, making adjustments where needed, set up any URL redirects, work on design and then go live.
What you have to consider, is that a website migration doesn’t happen in a single click, so get prepared for the delay in your site work. Obviously, the time required before your new site will be ready to go live depends on quite a few things and can differ greatly. However, good preparation and planning will always reduce the time and effort required to perform a successful website migration.
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